Searching for someone who preaches the truth is like looking for an icicle in August. Most false prophets rattle on for 30 minutes or so without ever opening the Bible. Determining that such men are merely expressing human opinion is fairly easy. But other false teachers tell Bible stories and cite numerous scriptures. This preaching style can be quite deceptive. The frequent biblical references give an impression of authentic gospel teaching.
The prophet Jeremiah addresses this very issue: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. […] Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘Declares the Lord'” (Jer. 23:16, 31). The false prophets denounced by Jeremiah invented dreams and visions from the Lord and then passed them off as genuine revelations. “Declares the Lord” was equivalent to “the Bible says.”
The quotation of scripture is no guarantee of healthy teaching. But how is a person to distinguish between false teaching and the truth? Following the suggestions below helps us identify the refreshing summer icicle:
Check It Out. The people of ancient Berea compared Paul’s preaching with the scriptures (Acts 17:11). When someone is preaching, follow along in your own Bible and do more reading at home.
Look at Context. Even the devil quoted a scripture (Matt. 4:6). By ignoring context, though, he twisted It. Carefully read the passage before and after any text to clarify its meaning.
Ask Questions. Jesus himself received questions from both friends and enemies. Beware of a preacher who is defensive about his teaching.
Watch for Humility. False prophets tend to have inflated opinions of themselves (2 Cor. 11:20). Their arrogance slips out in innumerable ways — boasts about position or personal possessions, self-promoting illustrations, degrading remarks about others.